Would Jesus buckle up, obey the speed limit, and show courtesy to other drivers? You bet your heated leather seats he would.
My wife Susan recently started a new job as a home health nurse, which means she’s on the road quite a bit. Most of her patients are being treated for COVID-19, which may sound frightening, but what makes her most nervous is getting to their homes in one piece.
She put a “Home Health Care Nurse” sticker on her back bumper, but tailgaters pay it no mind.
She’s watched trucks crossing multiple lanes with little regard for other vehicles, cars weaving through traffic, and impatient drivers filling the rearview mirror.
We both wonder why it seems the bigger the pickup truck, the faster they drive.
I’m not on the road as much these days, but I’m a geezer in a Prius who drives the speed limit, so I get my share of dirty looks from folks who think the laws don’t apply to them.
Last week, I received an email from Mark Ezzell, who is director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
He told me that in some areas of the state, traffic accidents are a major public health crisis. They’re a leading cause of death, due in part to too many folks who don’t wear seat belts and too many who do drive through the fog of alcohol and drugs.
He’s working with pastors to encourage safer driving practices and wondered what kind of biblical case one could make for safe driving.
It turns out that the Bible says remarkably little about wearing seat belts or speeding: neither applied to donkeys and camels.
The Old Testament does include one story about a notorious speed demon, however. When Jehu drove his chariot up the road to Jezreel with a bloody coup on his mind, a watchman reported, “It looks like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi; for he drives like a maniac” (2 Kings 8:20).
King Ahaziah of Judah had come to visit his cousin Joram, king of Israel, who had been wounded in battle. They rode out to meet Jehu in their own chariots and he killed them both, not in an accident, but with a draw of his bow and two well-placed arrows.
Don’t draw and drive.
In the ancient world, most people walked nearly everywhere they went. A few rode donkeys or mules, though the animals more commonly carried burdens or pulled wagons. High government officials and cavalry officers had access to chariots.
Most roads were dirt paths, but by the first century the Romans had begun paving critical roads for troop movements, fitting together slabs of smooth stone with lime cement.
The primary rule of the road in Jesus’ day was, “If you hear a chariot coming, get out of the way.” Too many people drive with a charioteer’s attitude.
The Bible doesn’t directly address highway safety, but it has much to say about showing proper respect for life, including our own.
The book of Leviticus enjoins us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Health codes called for people with infectious skin diseases to isolate themselves for the protection of others.
The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to respect others and not endanger them. High speed vehicles were not part of the ancients’ world, but the analogies are clear.
If we’re called to love others as Jesus loved us, then we’re also called to keep each other safe.
That rules out the risky behavior of driving while impaired. “Who has woe?” the writer of Proverbs asks. “Who has sorrow? … Who has wounds without cause? … Those who linger late over wine …” (Prov. 23:29-30).
It’s not the first glass so much as the lingering that causes trouble. The drunk driver who caused my daughter’s death back in 1994 had lingered over beers in a bar for four hours – on a Monday morning.
He was distracted by falling asleep, but other forms of diversion can be just as dangerous, and they are many.
The book of Acts actually has a story about someone reading a text in a moving vehicle, but the text was from a scroll of Isaiah and the Ethiopian official who asked Philip for help was not driving at the time (Acts 8:26-40).
It’s not hard to find biblical arguments for why we should drive sober, drive attentively, drive lawfully, and drive respectfully.
It all comes down to conscious caring, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Especially when we’re behind the wheel.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.